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The Power of Check-Ins: 7 Proven Strategies

A large component of any work culture is how managers assess and review employee performance and chart progress. Given the remote and hybrid nature of so many workplaces today, the approach is evolving — from top-down, unilateral, formal reviews to more dynamic and continual conversations. We’re seeing an increasing need for transparency and authenticity, and for recognizing how important it is for managers to reach out to employees — not just around a series of tasks accomplished, but around overall contributions to the organization and their own sense of goals and performance. Check-ins enable managers and employees to do just that. They create a framework of interaction and communication through a continuous cycle, and are proving far more effective than traditional reviews. They’re becoming a hallmark of modern talent management, and for good reason. 

Done well, check-ins build a dynamic relationship between manager and employee that increases engagement, enhances employee experience, and organically aligns employee and employer goals. But they need to be conducted not as check-ups, but as two-way interactions focused on trust as well as growth. 

The Value of Trust

For those already doing them right, check-ins with employees are focused on growth, albeit in small doses. It’s not hard to connect a cadence of conversations that include feedback, advice and dialogue to the development of our employees after all. But trust is just as key: all successful relationships are built on trust, especially in today’s workplace. It’s human nature to reject feedback and advice from someone we don’t trust, and that extends readily into the workplace. Without trust, the check-in process would fail before it started.

As with any other HR strategy there are best practices for conducting check-ins, whether from home or the office. Recently I sat down with TalentCulture’s Meghan M. Biro to level-set on seven critical factors that can standardize your check-in strategy — without diminishing either responsiveness or flexibility:   

Approach: Check-ins are not about a top-down, unilateral approach. While the role of managers has always entailed authority and supervision, when it comes to check-ins, managers need to scale back that dynamic. 

Replace the reflex to be assertive with a focus on the employee. Truly understand what makes them tick; this means listening to their thoughts, opinions and concerns and acting on them. Research by the Harvard Business Review shows that the more you listen to employees, the better they think you are at giving feedback, and so the more likely they are to trust what you say. 

Purpose: Check-ins embody a shift in purpose. They depart from the static occasion of traditional reviews to setting up a highly effective and ongoing dynamic geared to building trust and fostering growth. 

Dave Ulrich articulated the shift in his book, Victory Through Organization: “The foundational assumption is that feedback is not a leader’s side-responsibility; it is the leader’s primary work.” Instead of thinking of a check-in as an isolated moment or a mini-performance review, consider it a touchpoint on the employee lifecycle; an interaction that’s part of an ongoing conversation. 

Frequency: Establish a cadence of check-ins that adapts to the circumstance, the context, and the nature of your work culture. Pre-COVID, our advice was to conduct check-ins around every 4 to 6 weeks. But these are uncertain times — and they call for increased communication that’s aligned and consistent with the organizational message, culture and values. The bottom line is that you can’t overcommunicate. 

Your check-ins can take various forms, from a regular update focused on clarification and feedback; to a more comprehensive appraisal of performance (emphasizing personal development and employee contribution); to a marker of key events, such as onboarding, a promotion, a secondment, or even the shift to remote. But don’t do away with ad-hoc check-ins either. Employees and managers should be able to simply initiate a check-in regardless of whether it’s on the calendar. 

Approachability: Both parties should remain open and responsive within the context of a check-in. But that hinges on successfully building that foundation of trust: trust must be in place first in order for both parties to commit effectively. For managers, that means creating a sense of trust in the first place. Two simple ways to build trust: first, make it clear that either the manager or the employee is free to request a check-in at any time, for any reason — whether a formal discussion or a quick catch up. Second, whatever is covered, make it a conversation, in which you combine a review of tasks with questions about overall state of mind, and give the employee plenty of room to answer. Listening to your team members reinforces the fact that check-ins are not an exercise in powerplay, but on the contrary, a forum for two adults to meet on equal terms. 

In my discussion with Meghan, she pointed out the value of flattening the expected hierarchy: “For employees who may be used to taking a passive role in their own professional development, check-ins change the game. Instead of receiving advice and feedback, they get to play a lead role in assessing and guiding their own development.” This means it’s incumbent upon employees to not just discuss how the work is going, but also focus on the direction they want to be heading in, and the skills they need to get there.This dynamic empowers employees, strengthening their performance and loyalty. 

Addressing the whole person: The manager needs to continually remind themselves that the check-in is not just about the job at hand. It’s not about a singular project. It needs to happen with an eye on the bigger picture, and the employee as a whole person, particularly right now. As well as addressing an employee’s performance and contributions, use the check-in time to reinforce a sense of social connection and foster the essential relationships we all need and depend on to work. 

Go beyond this, addressing any safety concerns the employee may have, which are so common as we navigate the minefield of COVID-19. Discuss the future in terms of a trajectory, not a fixed point, including what kinds of skills and behaviors need to be developed and supported. And use deeper questions to address aspects of wellness and health. Employers have a duty of care, and the more we all experience the integration of work and life, the more check-ins can play a helpful role.

Language: This is not just a matter of tone; it’s also a matter of clarity. Managers in particular need to focus on how to clarify and improve their language during check-ins, and be accountable for what you say as well as how to say it. What’s come to the fore during the shift to remote as well as the increased pressure on essential workers is that we need interactions that convey a clear perception of what is expected and how we are performing. 

That should seem a simple matter, but the nature of remote and hybrid working is that we’re communicating across multiple channels that may not deliver the same way as face to face. As Meghan pointed out, “Tone and language are more important than ever, and they’re harder to get right when we’re working virtually.” Managers should purposefully practice conducting check-ins until they’re comfortable enough that the action becomes a habit. 

Measuring the change: Effective check-ins offer two dimensions of measurable  impact over time. There’s the personal impact, or developmental path, and a business impact, or performance/contribution. Managers and leaders have a duty to effectively enable the workforce to achieve a high-high combination, in which both aspects see growth:

We’re been witnessing a sea change in how we work for a while. We’ve seen a shift to teams as the essential unit of operations, as opposed to individuals collected under a supervisor. We’ve seen a new emphasis on democratizing data. Further, there’s been a marked increase in the ability to work remotely. All have raised the bar on what constitutes a great work culture. The situation we find ourselves in now has put the onus on better communication overall, including how we provide feedback to employees, and even whether or not “providing” is the right term. We’re seeing the fruits of allowing both parties to be actively involved in feedback and reviews, and we’re seeing the benefits of grounding these conversations in trust and framing them as a continuing cycle rather than a rare event. 

Check-ins are a powerfully effective tool for inviting employees to own their own growth and contribution in your organization. They provide a means to build and maintain better manager-employee relationships, align around shared goals, and turn the workplace into a high-performing, engaged community.

This post is sponsored by MHR International.

10 Ways To Escape From The Crowd

One of the more serious problems in society today is spacial separation; we are way too close to one another.

We find ourselves almost in the living room of our neighbor. Students sit shoulder-to-shoulder in classrooms and lecture halls. Sidewalks are jammed with a stream of people heading in the same direction to the same destination.

People’s brains are cluttered with the same traditional academic teachings with little room for an original thought.

We live in a crowded world with plurality forcing us to conform. The crowd is a blend of commonality. People move in a blur with no individual identity.

Crowds are imprinting agents. The mass creates pressure for anyone to get on the “average train” and be influenced by those around them.

It’s a serious situation in an economy that begs for remarkability, creativity and uniqueness to survive and succeed.

We MUST find ways for people to create space between each other both physically and mentally.

Physical separation exposes people to different environments with different agents of influence. Mental separation opens the mind to new thoughts with the capability of achieving remarkable things.

Here are 10 ways we can give the separation movement some help:

1. Change the conversation. Stop talking about how we can copy and be like others and start asking the question, “How can we walk away from the crowd?” Space is created by differences not similarities.

2. Reward people who screw up constantly. These are individuals who are on the edge, far from the herd. They live in space and should be encouraged to stay there.

3. Loosen up on the conformity thing. Recognize individuals who don’t follow the rules. Encourage students to color outside the lines to create something new. The education system requires a major overhaul.

4. Honor weirdness. Creativity is NOT a linear concept; it is expressed by ideologies and points of views unlike most others.

5. Hold teachers accountable for creating “new-idea meisters” in addition to how well students learn traditional concepts. Let’s do the unthinkable: pay teachers on the number of unique and creative students that leave their classroom!

6. Add emphasis to “the debate.” Sure. spelling bees have some value but why not provide more focus on the forum for thoughtful argument and disagreement? You can’t be creative and think out of the box in a spelling bee!

7. Get rid of uniforms. They are the signature of a crowd having similar minds and purpose; exactly what is NOT needed.

8. Avoid labels. Labels put individuals into buckets with the expectation that they are like everyone else in that bucket. It’s a disservice to the individual. Millennials? I see individuals with some similar values but many more with amazing differences if only we would pay attention to them. Stop classifying people; it sucks space.

9. Stay off public transportation especially in rush hour. Too any people; too much crowd snuggling; chance they could rub off on you.

10. Dump the “learning from others” notion. I get that there are some benefits from it, but after a point it becomes habitual and represents a barrier to thinking for yourself and coming up with creative ideas that have escaped fellow herd members.

Even if space is not a renewable resource we must find ways to not squander it and have confinement rob us of our originality and personal DNA.

Creating space is critical to a winning soccer strategy; it’s also a vital element of any personal and organizational growth strategy.

About the Author: Roy Osing is a former executive vice president and CMO with over 33 years of leadership experience. He is a blogger, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead.

photo credit: beije via photopin cc

Start Your Retention Strategy On Day One

The first day at a new job is stressful. The pressure to start off on the right foot and make a great first impression can be intense. Right or wrong, on the first day it can feel like there’s a lot on the line, and on top of it all, it is all packed into a busy first-day schedule.

While new employees realize the importance of having a great first day, many companies miss the opportunity to make a great first impression of their own. This isn’t to suggest that effective onboarding ends on the first day. On the contrary, onboarding exercises should continue throughout the first year, and then transition into your long-term employee growth, productivity and retention strategy.

That said, the time from an accepted offer through to the end of a new hire’s first week often misses a valuable element: listening to the new hire. The time is often filled with so much talking at the new employee intsead. Now that you’re outside of the pressures of the hiring process, these first few weeks are a key moment to listen and learn more about the person that is joining your team.

Aside from just being common courtesy, listening to your employees has good business value, too. For example, according to a recent LinkedIn study, some of the most popular reasons employees look for jobs are a desire for greater opportunities for advancement, more challenging work and more learning opportunities. By starting this conversation as early as possible and gaining a deep understanding about the opportunities that are valued by your new hires, you can help protect yourself with a strong retention strategy.

Here’s what else you can gain from your initial onboarding conversations:

Open, Honest Performance Conversations: For many reasons, some of the most awkward conversations in the workplace are during performance reviews. A great way to counter this is by having performance conversations early and often. When an employee sees the value in sharing honestly, these performance conversations will have much greater value. A conversation about performance expectations for the first weeks and months is often a good start.

Visualize Long-Term Plans: Part of a successful long-term employer-employee relationship is putting an employee in a situation that runs parallel to his or her ideal career plan. By knowing where your employees want to go, you can better ensure that their work on your team keeps them on that chosen path.

Identify Employee Motivations: Part of building a high-performance culture is identifying the best ways to reward and acknowledge your talented employees. Discovering what your new hires value and what pushes them early will help you make your rewards more meaningful, and will save you from inefficient trial and error.

Show You Care: One of the leading causes of underperformance and burnout is personal problems. From the first day, you can work to build trust with a new employee that would make them feel comfortable discussing issues ourside of the office that might disrupt their work. Just asking simple questions about an employee’s weekend, summer plans or interests in general – and sharing in turn – can help create this environment, and may also foster loyalty.

Admittedly, these are behaviors that work well beyond day one with a new hire, but the sooner you can get started, the better off you will be.

How do you connect with your new hires after the hiring process is over?

photo credit: Phil Roeder via photopin cc